Friday, July 4, 2008


They liked the choir so much that they asked us to perform (ahem. . . worship with the congregation) THE NEXT DAY. But I was flying out to Limpopo (a northeastern state) Province to speak to a rural group of kids about “Making Healthy Choices.” So I arranged lifts (rides) for choir members and flew out the next morning.

Adrianne and Brian picked me up and we drove to somewhere near Bergersfort, Limpopo and stayed with Jeanet who recently resigned from a position as a missionary with Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (Africa Region) working alongside Brian (more closely as his boss) and Adri.

The next day Monday was Youth Day in South Africa, a national holiday. And we were having a Youth Day HIV/AIDS Rally. We started with a march in which I felt like we had gone back to 1976 during the Soweto uprising. We marched and sang a few kilometers (which high steps and high kicks) until we reached the tent for the meeting. I (not really having prepared a speech since I was busy with the choir) was still working on my speech near the beginning of the day. I was given a seat of honor along with a pastor, a teacher or education person, two government officials, and another person who wasn’t introduced because she came late. They sang worship songs, then they introduced us all.

Then they asked me to speak.

Well, these people speak Sepedi which is not only different than Xhosa (spoken in my area of South Africa) but not even understandable and different (Xhosa, Zulu, and Ndebele people can somewhat work out what each other is saying because the languages are similar and are considered dialects by many). Sepedi is part of another group of dialectal official languages, so they couldn’t understand me. I spoke a greeting in Sepedi, then a small introduction in Xhosa, and then did the talk in English. They specifically said they didn’t want an interpreter, but either my accent was unintelligible or I was speaking too fast (I wasn’t speaking fast but it might have been fast for my accent). So we had to stop after awhile and get an interpreter (there were some who spoke no English but they were in the minority; I wasn’t sure how many of the English speakers were misunderstanding me). So I had an interpreter and it was at this point that I felt like a big speaker or missionary or something. Interpreting is a very difficult task and takes some type of intelligence to do it well. This person was having a tough time with it, so he was thrown aside after stuttering about 12 times on a specific word. This next guy did well and didn’t ask me to repeat what I said all the time.

I spoke on “Making Healthy Choices” and had to get the kids talking during my talk because it was going long and people were getting tired in my opinion. This was because the 30 minute talk took 45 – 60 minutes because of the starting and stopping with the translation (it wasn’t the type of translation where you speak continuously; I had to stop and wait and take turns with the translator). I tried to involve them and tell stories instead of preaching since it doesn’t work so well.

After I was done, we had to continue with the program because the food was still not ready. We heard from the education/teacher man, a woman who remained a virgin until marriage (she was funny; she spoke about men wanting her so badly thinking she was so attractive [she didn’t seem especially attractive] and she would tell them “I’m so attractive to you because I have JESUS and you don’t!”; she would also talk about unzipping your dress and how many times that should happen a day; men used to tell her that she was a virgin not due to self-control but because she didn’t like men or because she liked women; etc. you had to be there). Then we did a Q&A. Then each group of bussed-in kids came forward and performed a song. In between every song/group and every talk we all sang and dance. It was a worship service! Lastly there was a time when kids were given the opportunity to come forward and pledge abstinence until marriage. There were about 12 youth and then the honored guests were asked to stand behind them and pray for them.

It was a great time. I know many have issue with not educating and teaching and preaching condoms, and it’s good to do so. It’s important (AIDS is passed here many times within marriage, even), but you have to be sensitive to who is asking you to speak. So I didn’t do the ABC emphasizing the C. The group I was speaking values abstinence as a group value and I have to respect that (actually I value it, too). I did talk about the importance of condoms in the talk and about women and how they can be empowered through fermidoms (female condoms and microbicides). The BEST part for me was the Q&A. Everyone had questions, mostly adults. And they all called me Doc. “Doc, can you help me? “ “Doc, what happens if this. . ..”

It was great because we began, if only for that small group, to demystify AIDS/HIV and remove the stigma, destroy the myths. That’s why the trip was so important. We spoke about passing HIV through saliva, the possibility of re-infection between two HIV positive people, etc. The most powerful moment came when an actual youth asked me if God can cure AIDS. The moderators try to dissuade me from attempting to answer the question, but I took it and answered. Jeannie asked me last night what I said, and I didn’t go into it. But I’ll include it now.

What I said was not profound at all; it was simple actually. I said yes, and then went back to my seat. I figured he wanted a better answer so I then elaborated, expounded, elucidated with this, unsure whether he meant cure an instance of AIDS in one person or if he meant cure the entire AIDS epidemic:

I believe in a miracle-working God who not only creative the world but is active and presently intervening in this world. Yes, He can cure any diseases and, even with AIDS, we have seen people who have miraculously been cured of AIDS through no work of the doctors involved. Yet, simultaneously we realize when doctors do help someone and use medicine that that is also the work of God for doctors and medicine are gifts of God and fruit of the inborn knowledge and thirst for advancement he gave us. So we have seen AIDS go away in special cases with no known human cause. But if you were asking about God’s ability to find a cure, once and all for AIDS—yes, He can. If you look at the disease, how smart it is, how it can change and mutate into a different strain, how it can hide within a cell, how it can go dormant, and many years later turn on within a cell, how it can become resistant to drugs, how it attacks the very cells that should kill the virus—the task is overwhelming. We’ve never seen a disease like this. Moreover, we have no known cure for ANY virus. So when we find a cure for HIV and AIDS (and I believe we will) I know it will only have been through God’s grace because this one beyond our current understanding. Yes He can cure it. And I believe He will.

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